A Ph.D. student provides guidance on internet use in a time of pandemic

screenshot of student on youtube

Samrat Acharya, a Ph.D. student from Nepal, addresses fellow Nepali citizens via YouTube about cybersecurity now that many in the nation are relying on online services during the pandemic.

In recent years the small South Asian nation Nepal has been adopting internet technologies at a fast pace, and online shopping, banking and education are becoming increasingly common. By now, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are familiar to most Nepali people.

And like those the world over, residents of Nepal have been turning to online platforms and services in greater numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic; because the country remains on lockdown, many are relying on social-media sources to get as much information as possible, although it is difficult for them to distinguish official information from rampantly spread rumors. 

Samrat Acharya, an NYU Ph.D. student from Nepal, studies in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and is advised jointly by Professors Ramesh Karri and Yury Dvorkin. (His current research involves investigating the possibility that plug-in electric vehicles — and the charging stations that supply them — could be prime vectors for cyberattacks on urban power grids.)

Acharya became concerned that most Nepali had little to no knowledge of cybersecurity and that their use of online services, particularly social media platforms, posed risks as a result. In order to raise cyber-awareness and pass along tips that could be helpful in Nepal — as well as in other locales where citizens have been forced to rapidly enter the digital age to learn about health threats, conduct business, or communicate with family and friends — he wrote an article that was widely disseminated through Nepali channels and that he hopes will enable a nation of relative digital novices to practice basic cyber-hygiene.

Opening with an explanation of exactly what a cyberattack is, he included valuable takeaways for the governmental sector, entities like banks, and individuals. Among them are:

  • The government must endeavor to post accurate health-related guidance through their official websites, as well as daily needed information on such issues as electrical outages and relief-fund distribution, and update it in a timely way. 
  • The National Investigation Bureau should be on alert during the pandemic to monitor cybercrime.
  • Employees should not be encouraged to use office laptops for their personal use, which can be highly risky from the perspective of security. 
  • On-line service providers should incorporate two-factor authentication into their service apps.
  • Individuals must use strong passwords and incorporate two-factor authentication into their accounts and must familiarize themselves with what phishing emails and suspicious social-media links look like so as to avoid them.

“There are numerous instances in which cyber-criminals considered disasters as special opportunities,” Acharya warned, “and even powerful nations can face unimaginable consequences in the face of unprecedented problems like COVID-19.” He continued, “We can control the coronavirus by washing our hands and physical distancing, but it’s just as important to avoid the pandemic of cybercrime that could occur on the Internet if we’re not careful.”

Nepali speakers can watch Acharya discuss the topic on youtube